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Weimar Germany Reichsbanknote, 500 million marks, owned by an Austrian Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2004.709.13

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    Brief Narrative
    Emergency currency, valued at 500 million marks, likely acquired by Dr. Erich Maier. The note was issued in 1923 by the German government and is an example of the money printed during the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. The small circle watermark indicates a private firm printer. After Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938, Erich’s law practice in Vienna was confiscated because he was Jewish. In November, he decided to leave the country for the United States with his wife, Ella, and two step-daughters, Amelia and Gerda. After the war ended in May 1945, Erich worked as a censor for the United States War Department in the American zone of occupation in Germany. He also worked with the World Jewish Congress in Germany to provide aid for those in displaced persons camps.
    issue:  1923 September 01
    issue: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Robert Jonas Gross
    face, watermark : small circles
    face, near upper edge, black ink : Reichsbanknote / Fünfhundert / Millionen Mark [Reich banknote / 500 Million Mark]
    face, center, black ink : ZAHLT DIE REICHSBANKHAUPTKASSE IN BERLIN GEGEN DIESE / BANKNOTE DEM EINLIEFERER. VOM 1. JANUAR 1924 AB KANN / DIESE BANKNOTE AUFGERUFEN UND UNTER UMTAUSCH GEGEN / ANDERE GESETZLICHE ZAHL[ ]NGSMITTEL EINGEZOGEN WEREDEN / BERILN, DEN 1. SEPTEMBER 1923 / REICHSBANKDIREKTORIUM [Will be paid by the Reich’s main bank cashier in Berlin. From January 1, 1924 this bank note can be called and exchanged against other retracted legal tender / Berlin, September 1, 1923 / Governing body of the Empire’s bank]
    face, lower left and right, between signatures, printed in a circle, black ink : REICHSBANKDIREKTORIUM * [Governing body of the Empire’s bank]
    face, lower left, black ink : WER BANKNOTEN NACHMACHT ODER VER - / FALSCHT, ODER NACHGEMMACHTE ODER / VERFALSCHTE SICH VERSCHAFFT UND IN / VERKEHR BRINGT, WIRD MIT ZUCHTHAUS / NICHT UNTER ZWEI JAHREN BESTRAFT [Those who imitate or counterfeit banknotes or distorts or falsifies, procures and markets it, is punishable with imprisonment of not less than two years]
    face, lower left, black ink : NN – 7
    face, lower right, serial number, green ink : 167765
    face, right border, purple ink : 500
    Issuer: Reichsbankdirektorium
    Subject: Erich Maier
    Erich Maier was born on August 25, 1889, to Max and Julia Kohn Maier in Neunkirchen, Austria, where his father (d. 1929) was born. The family was descended from the revered Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Eisenstadt (d. 1744, Hungary.) Erich’s mother was born on August 6, 1854, in Lajtaszentmiklos, Hungary (now Neudorfl, Austria.) Erich had five brothers: a twin Ernst, Otto, b. 1877, Leo, b. 1882, Benno, b. 1884, and Arthur, b. 1886, and three sisters: Flora, b. 1878, Helena, b. 1880, and Minna, (approximately 1892-1932.) Erich had a law degree from the University of Vienna and was active in the Jewish community. He became an associate in a law firm with Leo Hermann Gruber. Gruber, a well-known criminal defense attorney and outspoken opponent of the Nazi Party, died of cancer at age 41 on December 29, 1934. His widow, Ella (Elisabeth), who handled the firm’s business records, agreed to let Erich take over the practice. Erich and Ella married on December 15, 1935. Ella, the only daughter of wealthy parents, Jonas and Jetti Tannenblatt Hochstadt, was born in Vienna on January 16, 1908. She had married Leo Gruber on August 2, 1925, and they had two daughters, Amelia, born September 24, 1929, and Gerda, born April 25, 1931. Erich and Ella were a well-to-do Jewish family.

    Nazi Germany merged Austria into the German Reich in March 1938. They enacted anti-Jewish laws to disenfranchise Jews as citizens and Jews were no longer permitted to take part in many activities and professions. Erich’s law practice was forced to close in June because he was Jewish. The family’s home was often searched by the Gestapo. On one visit, they demanded to see Leo Gruber and Ella had to give them directions to his gravesite as proof that he was dead. They confiscated and stole personal belongings, including a doll carriage.

    The family decided to leave Austria. Ella found a cousin, Nathan Rennert, in America, who provided an affidavit of support for the family to obtain US visas. The Austrian exit fees were extremely costly, but on November 8, 1938, they fled Vienna for Le Havre, France. They were not allowed to take anything of value. When the train was searched by German authorities, Ella hid her jewelry in her soup. The family fled on the SS Normandie and arrived on November 24 in New York, where they remained. Erich’s brother, Ernst, his wife, Margit, nee Fleischmann, and 7 year old son Thomas escaped to the US in 1939 with his help. Erich and Ernst's brother Arthur joined them in 1941. Their mother, Julia Maier, 85, had died in Vienna in approximately 1939. Her mother Jetti was born in Usciebiskupie, Galicia, Austro-Hungary, (now Usti︠a (Ternopilʹsʹka oblastʹ, Ukraine) on November 8, 1874, and her father Jonas was born in Rostoki, Romania, on December 20, 1875. They were on the Romanian quota for the US, which was very small. Ella arranged exit visas to England, which were so expensive they had to sell properties in Vienna, but the visas expired by the time the properties were sold. Ella then obtained transit visas for Bolivia via the US and her parents arrived in New York in August 1940. They were allowed to remain and moved in with Ella and her family. Erich got a position with the World Jewish Congress and, by 1942, Ella worked there as well.

    Both Erich and Ella became naturalized citizens in 1944. Ella and Erich submitted 24 affidavits of support for relatives, and 15 family members reached the US. The others perished. After the war ended in May 1945, they learned that Erich’s other five siblings were killed in concentration camps: Benno in Jasenovac in Croatia in 1941; Leo in Gyor, Hungary, presumably during forced labor service; Leo's wife Sarika in Auschwitz in 1944; Otto in Theresienstadt in February 1944; Flora Frankl and Helena Salz in Auschwitz on October 12, 1944; and Helena’s husband Moritz in Theresienstadt in 1943. Ella’s first husband Leo had two brothers, Erich, (1895-1942), and Fritz, (1900-1939.) The three brothers were born in Vienna to Simon and Amalie Herzstadt Gruber (d. 1900.) Fritz was married to Sofia Selinger (1894-1942) and had a son Siegfried (Fred) (1922-2014.) Fred, 16, received a space on the Kindertransport, a rescue operation that sent Jewish children to safety in Great Britain, and fled Vienna on December 16, 1938. Fritz died due to illness on April 21, 1939. Sofia was deported on November 27, 1941, to Riga, Latvia, and then to Maly Trostenic killing site near Minsk, Belarus, where she was killed on June 15, 1942. Erich Gruber was deported in February 1941 to Kielce, Poland. Ella received a postcard from him dated July 29, 1941, asking for food packages. The ghetto was liquidated in spring 1942, and residents were shipped to Treblinka killing center. Erich Gruber did not survive.

    Erich Maier, who was fluent in German, English, French, and Yiddish, had been working as a censor for the US War Department since 1943. After the war ended, he was sent to work in the American zone of occupation in Germany. While there, he acted as the unofficial representative of the World Jewish Congress. He visited displaced persons camps in Germany to gather information and provide aid for Jewish refugees. He collected the names of all the children at Foehrenwald, Mittelbau, and Beth Bialik DP camps, so that the WJC could send letters and care packages. The WJC tried to arrange for Erich to remain as their official representative after his contract with the US War Department ended in 1946, but they could not get the permits. He continued to work for the WJC until 1948. He then took a position with the law firm of Rosenman, Colin, et al. Erich’s law license was not valid in the US, and he worked as librarian and researcher until his retirement. He also continued to volunteer with the WJC, coordinating shipments of books, clothes, and supplies, and searching for relatives of displaced refugees. Ella worked for the World Jewish Congress for over 25 years, retiring as chief archivist. Ella’s father Jonas, 75, died in 1950. Her mother Jetti, 78, passed away in 1952. Amelia married and had two daughters. She passed away in 1967 while working on her PhD. Gerda married Morton Gross and had three sons. She was a special education teacher, with a graduate degree in the subject. Erich, 71, passed away on April 22, 1963. Ella, 79, passed away in May 1987.

    Physical Details

    Exchange Media
    Physical Description
    Offwhite paper currency. The face has a graphic design in greenish brown and purple with zigzag edges and a watermark of small circles. On the background are the numerical denomination 500 and a German word. Near the upper edge is the text denomination Funfhundert Millionen Mark in German fraktur text; the F is large and stylized. On the center are 6 lines of German text and then 4 lines of signatures. On either side of the signatures is a Reichsadler seal with German text and a dexter facing eagle in black ink. On the lower left are 5 lines of small German text and an acronym and a number. The serial number is in the lower right in green ink. The right side has a wide, offwhite border with the stylized, numerical denomination 500 printed vertically. The back is blank with adhesive tape along the vertical crease. It si discolored, with folded corners, a torn left edge and other small tears.
    overall: Height: 3.375 inches (8.573 cm) | Width: 6.125 inches (15.558 cm)
    overall : paper, ink, adhesive

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The paper currency was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Robert J. Gross, the step-grandson of Dr. Erich Maier.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-21 11:48:42
    This page:

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